South Africa’s international borders are open for travel again! If you’re amped for an adventure, we’d recommend Canoeing the Orange River in Namibia. This action-packed venture is a great way to unwind and unplug from the so-called civilised world.
By Lori Booth
It was with excitement and trepidation that we set off on our journey from Durban to Namibia where we would commence our canoe trip down the Orange River. We took a four-day road trip, stopping in Kimberley to see the Big Hole, at Augrabies Falls National Park to see the world’s sixth largest waterfall and at Naries Namaqua Retreat for sublime food and relaxation, before launching into the waters of the mighty Orange.
Before we left we made sure we had all our BOOXE Emergency Kit and First Aid Pack neatly stored in our BOOXE Boot Boxes – you never know what sudden crisis might happen along the way. We also made sure we had all our maps, cell phone chargers, passports and other documents as well as our padkos for the three-day road trip stored neatly in our BOOXE Keep-it-tidy Caddy!
ARRIVING AT THE ORANGE RIVER
After stocking up on snacks, water and alcoholic beverages in Springbok, we arrived at the Felix Unite River Adventures’ Provenance base camp situated on the banks of the Orange River. A thriving oasis amidst the stark semi-desert; the shady trees and swimming pool were a welcome relief following the hot drive from Vioolspoort border post. There are 20 en-suite cabanas perched on grassy banks overlooking the river and our group of eight adults quickly settled ourselves in while the six teenagers explored their surroundings.
Before relaxing with sundowners we met our lead guide, Stevie B, for a briefing and everyone was given two 20 litre buckets to transfer all their gear into. These two buckets must fit your sleeping bags, clothing and toiletries – basically everything you are taking – as they are waterproof and buoyant so, if you capsize, can be easily retrieved. Each canoe has one cooler box for beverages. Finally we were done repacking and ready for those sundowners at the rustic poolside pub, where pizzas were ordered for supper.
CANOEING IS NOT FOR SISSIES
Day one of our four-day canoe trip dawned to hot sunshine. We couldn’t wait to hit the water! Stevie and his four guides provided sizzling bacon and egg rolls for breakfast and after packing our two-man Indian Mohawk canoes we slipped into the river and began learning to paddle. The guides advised that the stronger person steer the boat from the back and the smaller person sit in front to paddle, which didn’t seem fair to the fairer sex, but we obeyed – at first.
The river is wide and flat where we started and the current made paddling easy going, but as it meanders the current changes and there are periods of intense paddling, resulting in some stiff shoulders and arms at night. Everyone was anxious about negotiating the numerous sets of rapids Stevie had warned us of but we survived our first “Dead Mans Rapid” and semi-relaxed. We were in for a surprise the next day when we hit the legendary “Sjamboek Rapid” and four canoes capsized! Nothing of great value was lost, except our pride, as the buckets were captured by our guides further down the river and my husband hung onto our cooler box for dear life.
COOLING OFF AND CHILLING BY THE RIVERAfter a couple of hours of paddling, swimming and watching the boys jumping off cliffs into the deep river we followed our guides as they steered towards the shore of a grassy plain where we would have lunch. The unyielding sun beat down from a clear sky so the men hurriedly erected beach umbrellas while the women handed out beers and cold drinks and the teens cooled off in the river. Lunch was a tantalizing platter of cold cuts and cheese with rolls and salads artfully arranged by Stevie and the guides. We tucked in like ravenous sailors. Satiated, we paddled off to find camp for our first night on the riverbank. Stevie has been a Felix Unite river guide for over 15 years so has an intimate knowledge of the river and its surrounds and anticipates the best campsite to aim for according to the group’s progress. The current was strong, allowing us to steer without strenuous paddling and we were able to contemplate the magnificence of the Richtersveld scenery; rosy-hued cliffs on either side of the river rising to gigantic heights, scrub bush with patches of grass where sheep and goats graze, Darters and Cormorants swooping down over the clear waters of the Orange River. Without cellphones we were able to unplug from the rest of the world and tune into the vast silence of this valley that was our home for a few days, the splashing of paddles in the water our only reminder of human life.
ROUGHING IT NAMIBIA-STYLEReaching our destination on the first evening was a challenge as there was no slope to the shore and we were forced to jump out of our canoes and climb up the steep bank. After hauling the canoes onto shore we were soon unpacking our buckets and arranging our sleeping quarters under the stars. No roof required. The guides quickly erected a Bedouin tent providing much-needed shade, before starting a fire over which they cooked our dinner. Bathing was the next test for us city folk but necessity being the mother of invention; we discovered secluded spots on the riverbanks and managed a wash-up behind the reeds. Refreshed and dressed in comfy clobber we all chilled out under the Bedouin tent with well-deserved sundowners and snacks before dinner. Within an hour or so of landing Stevie and his team had produced a gourmet meal of chicken casserole and rice, salad and rolls. The meals produced by our five guides were extraordinary considering they were concocted from scratch over a wood fire. Hot, tasty and plentiful, we enjoyed spaghetti bolognaise and lamb casserole the following nights, and a full English breakfast every morning. After telling stories around the fire, it was time to try our outdoor beds. We’d brought a blow up mattress, so, snug in our sleeping bags, there was just time to marvel at the diamond-studded sky before we slid easily into dreamland, a place filled with the raw beauty and adventure of the magnificent Orange River.
How to do it:
- Felix Unite offer 4 and 6-day trips down the Orange River between August and May which include experienced guides, river and safety equipment, gourmet food, portaloos, transfer back to base camp etc. See website for http://felixunite.com Tel +27 87 354 0578
- Namibian visas are not required for SA passport holders but a valid passport and ZA vehicle sticker are.
- It’s recommended staying in the cabanas the nights before and after the trip to prepare and recharge.
- Don’t take children under 12, as the canoeing can be strenuous and lengthy.
- Necessities: Sleeping bag, blow-up mattress, beach umbrella, camping chairs, dry bags for camera & toiletries, torch, juice bottle, hat, gym/cycling gloves, scarf/buff, sunglasses, towels, swimming togs, shoes suitable for water/rocks, rash vest or waterproof windbreaker for paddling in, shorts, T-shirts, track pants, fleece, slops, walking shoes, sunscreen, biodegradable soap and shampoo, toilet rolls, insect repellant, 2 litres water per person/day, juice and alcohol in tins, plastic cartons or sachets, biltong, nuts, crisps, energy bars, dried fruit.
Tip from the expert
Stevie B, Experienced River Guide
“When negotiating the rapids, keep paddling in the white water as this adds momentum and gives you more stability and control. Lean in towards the rocks when you hit them, not outwards as you will capsize!”